A rare scene in the American justice system unfolded Friday in a Chicago courthouse: A white officer stood before a mostly white jury and was convicted of killing a black teenager.

It was the second such verdict nationally in two months. Jason Van Dyke’s guilty conviction for second-degree murder and multiple counts of aggravated battery for fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times came two months after a Texas officer was convicted in the killing of a 15-year-old unarmed black boy.

Jason Van Dyke

The pair of guilty verdicts could signal a shift in momentum after years of delayed arrests, non-indictments and not guilty verdicts. Activists and advocates say that their efforts, along with the ubiquity of cellphone camera evidence, could be changing the power balance between police and black communities.

“We’re starting to see some verdicts that are in line with justice,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, a civil rights group that has supported electing reform-minded district attorneys in cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia. “No verdict is going to bring Laquan back or change the way he was taken from his family, friends or community. But being able to start sending a message to law enforcement that they are not above the law is important.”

It was not an outcome some expected, despite evidence including a video of McDonald’s shooting. It is extremely rare for police officers to be tried and convicted of murder for shootings that occurred while they were on duty. Before Friday, only six non-federal police officers had been convicted of murder in such cases – and four of those were overturned – since 2005, according to data compiled by criminologist and Bowling Green State University professor Phil Stinson.

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